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A room with a view

LEFT: The portable camera obscura ABOVE: When Christian Gobrecht

took the darkroom outside, where it illustrated the workings of a camera
was used by amateur and professional obscura for Abraham Reess The
artists, as well as by naturalists. Cyclopedia or Universal Dictionary of
Arts, Sciences, and Literature
IDEA No 1 (180522), he was careful to show how
the device created an inverted image.


Unlike the aeroplane and television, the advent of photography was

never predicted. Yet even ancient peoples had a foretaste of it.
Occasionally, when light passed through a tiny hole in an exterior
wall, it projected an upside-down, leftright-reversed image of the
world outside on the opposite inside wall.
The odd phenomenon of an inverted image projected on an interior wall intrigued ancient
thinkers in Europe and Asia, who described it in their writings. By the Middle Ages, scholars
were theorizing what the properties of light centuries, intellectual connections between fields. The room-sized camera obscura was
might be that allowed it to pass through a the camera obscura and the recording of not totally abandoned. Indeed, it persists
small aperture of any shape and create a the observable world flourished. Dutch t o d a y
round image of an exterior scene on an artist Constantin Huygens remarked that as a tourist attraction in many sites around
interior surface. Some used the paintings looked dead by comparison with the world.
phenomenon to observe solar events, like vibrant camera obscura images. Increased Each of photographys inventors
eclipses, which would otherwise have hurt interest instigated physical change in the owned a portable camera obscura, and its
the naked eye. They directed light through instrument from a darkened room to a use seems to have provided a major
a small opening, letting it project on a flat darkened closet-sized compartment in impetus toward envisioning how an
surface in a darkened room. Ultimately the which an individual could stand or sit and automatic and permanent image might be
technique took the Latin name camera make drawings. Lenses were routinely generated.
obscura, or dark chamber. included, and other new devices helped to
Tenth-century Arab scholar Ibn strengthen and
Haytham, known in the West as Alhazen, focus the image. Mirrors were employed to
seems not only to have used the camera re-reverse the image and make
obscura in his experiments, but also to have it upright.
likened human sight to its optics. When the But one can only draw the same scene
Renaissance artist and thinker Leonardo da so many times. The more people used the
Vinci used a camera obscura, it was not a darkened room, the more they longed to
special room or instrument, but an ordinary exploit its qualities outside. The creation of
room, darkened and fitted with a lens to so-called little houses curtained sedan
sharpen the image as it streamed in from chairs and one-person tents offered some
the outside. For Leonardo, the camera benefit, but the breakthrough came when
obscura was like a cinema, alive with the camera obscura stopped trying to be a
moving figures and active skies. He saw the room and instead became a small portable
camera obscura as a potential means of box, usually wooden, which could be used
representation, suggesting that its image by a broad spectrum
could be traced with a pen. of people, including naturalists, scientists,
During the sixteenth and seventeenth topographers, artists, and amateurs in all

But the breakthrough came when The continuing fascination of the
camera obscura image is borne out by

the camera obscura ... became a small

its use in contemporary art, especially
in installations such as Minnie Weiszs
2006 Room 303.

portable box.
Convincing the public that an invisible
image existed ... was initially difficult.

ABOVE: The latent image was coaxed

from the daguerreotype plate by being
exposed to mercury fumes in a
so-called bath like this one.

RIGHT: After the latent image was

developed, its tones could be further
enhanced by a final gilding or toning.
Sight unseen

Collection of early photographic




When film is exposed to light, the changes to its chemical make-

up are not necessarily visible to the eye. The image produced is
thus said to be latent, and must be further treated and developed
to be seen.
In photographys early days, the ultimate scientist and politician, Franois Arago, took War II, in the birth of the Polaroid image.
photograph was envisioned as mimicking up his case.
human vision. Therefore, the ideal camera Another of photographys pioneers, the
image would be formed quickly and Englishman W.H.F. Talbot, inventor of the
completely, with no enhancement to the calotype, independently dis-covered the
film after its initial exposure. (See Direct latent image in the course of his first
Positive Images.) The instant-image ideal experiments. Recognizing its potential, he
may have prevented the first photographers perfected it to the point where a developed
from swiftly grasping a more mundane image could be used to make multiple
idea: the latent image. copies. Soon the latent image became an
Convincing the public that an invisible integral step in the production of a final
image existed on what looked like a small, picture.
blank rectangle of silver was initially difficult. Thinking in terms of latency changed
In the early 1830s, when L.J.M. Daguerre how photographs were taken and printed.
demon-strated his technique for making Exposure times were shortened, allowing
photographs to Parisians assembled around more subjects to be rendered quickly,
an outdoor display of his camera and including people, who found it difficult to
development equipment, the public sit still for many minutes while their images
dismissed him as a charlatan. It did not help were registered. Eventually, the taking of
his credibility that he made the image photographs was separated from the
appear by slipping out of the crowds sight development process, which could be
and into a darkened space. His account of delayed, initially for days, then in due course
how he had discovered the latent image for weeks and months after exposure. Until
was equally questionable. He claimed to the invention of digital photography in the
have put some underexposed silver plates late twentieth century, the latent image
in a closet where other chemicals were was at the core of most photographic
kept. When he returned, he found that production, because the photographic
images had magically appeared on the industry depended on the making and
plates. After an exhaustive trial-and-error selling of multiple images that the negative
process, he concluded that fumes from a made possible. The notion of the latent
dish of mercury left in the closet must have image never extinguished the hope for an
brought out the pictures. Daguerres work instant, direct-positive print.
only became credible when a renowned That idea found its realization after World

One-step photography



Photographys inventors began their experiments with the elegant

idea that they should be able to capture, in a single step, the
elaborate image projected in the camera obscura. That initial idea
of a direct positive image became a persistent goal for nearly two
centuries, culminating inthePolaroid and digital photography.

Seeing the lively coloured image cast by the of light with a solution of his own devising,
camera obscura, the French inventor Talbot held in his hands a direct positive
Joseph Nicphore Nipce inserted light- image, which, he would soon come to
sensitized paper into his portable camera recognize, could be used as a negative to
obscura, and managed to record a vague make tonally reversed reproductions of the
tonal display of light and dark in the early image. This technique, renamed the photo-
nineteenth century. Learning from other ex- gram in the twentieth century, has never
periments, he selected a flat piece of pewter lost its appeal.
and smeared it with bitumen of Judea, a Despite the overwhelming use of
tarlike substance that hardens in the negatives to produce multiple prints, the
presence of light. The prepared metal was idea of a direct positive print persisted.
placed in a camera obscura that rested in a Ambrotypes, an inexpensive substitute for
window in an upper story of his home. After the daguerreotype, required a slightly
about eight hours, the bitumen that was underexposed glass negative and a black
exposed to the most light had hardened. backing, which would turn the negative to
Nipce washed away the softer, less positive. Another direct positive process,
exposed bits, and increased the contrast the popular lightweight tintype, used a
TOP: View from the Window at Le Gras (c. between dark and light by exposing the similar notion of reversing tones.
1826) by Nipce is the worlds oldest
surviving photograph. It was made by
plate to iodine fumes. At the end of the Before the digital age, the post-World
exposing light-sensitive material to process, he held in his hands a direct War II development of what was called the
sunlight for about eight hours.
positive image, now considered to be the Polaroid process came closest to an instant
ABOVE: The ambrotype was a negative worlds earliest surviving photograph. one-step photog-raphy. The camera came
printed on glass. Its tones were reversed from Nipces image was unique: it had no packed with negative film and positive
negative to positive by placing a black
backing behind the glass plate. negative from which to make copies. paper sandwiched together with chemicals
Eventually, his work became the basis of the to develop and fix the image.
daguerreotype, a much more visually
detailed image.
Another of photographys inventors
produced what he called photogenic
drawing, that is, one-of-a-kind, camera-less
images produced through the agency of
light. W.H.F. Talbot sensitized paper with
solutions of silver, which made the paper
darken in sunlight during the mid-1830s. He
then placed small objects such as leaves on
the paper and exposed both to sunlight.
In those areas where the sunlight failed to
penetrate, a silhouette of the object
appeared. After having stopped the action

Hippolyte Bayard developed his own
direct-positive printing technique.
Using himself as a model, he taunted
the belief that a photograph cannot lie
by posing as a dead man in his
Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man (1840).
Reverse logic
to scale

The negative formed the basis of

photography until the digital age. It is
based on the reversal of dark and light

Before there was a negative, there was a paper photograph and an

inventor who imagined that it could be made to reproduce itself.
Until the digital era, the idea that one photographic image could
be made to print its exact inverse was the foundation of
It wasnt a eureka moment. In 1835, when art could take solace in the way that images
W.H.F. Talbot succeeded in making an seemed to sink into the paper and the
image after a long exposure, he noted that details smudged a bit, giving the final
it might be used to make what he called a picture a desirable handmade quality.
second drawing. In other words, Talbot Although many commentators enthused
envisioned placing the image on a that the negative would produce unlimited
sensitized piece of paper and exposing it to copies, the truth as far as paper negatives
light to make a copy. In the second drawing, were concerned was less dramatic.
or positive print, the tones of the Repeated wetting with water weakened
first image, or negative, would be reversed. the paper fibres and contact with light-
Talbot may have conceived the process, but sensitive paper eroded images.
his friend the scientist John Herschel coined Photographers sometimes applied a thin
the terms negative and positive to describe layer of beeswax to paper negatives to help
the technique. Herschel is also credited maintain the integrity of the image and the
with giving photography its name. paper. Even so, paper negatives were
The first negatives were made of paper frequently retouched with ink or pencil.
(see The Calotype). When images were The improvement of the negative
printed from them, the texture and density required that substances without a texture
of the paper influenced the final print. be substituted for paper. The progress from
People who found photog-raphy a threat to collodion to the emulsions that produce

Film-based photography emphasized Forest (1951), shown here in the
the production of complex negatives hands of curator Dianne Nilsen at the
with many expressive gray tones that University of Arizonas Center for
could yield a rich visual experience for Creative Photography in Tucson, where
viewers, as in Wynn Bullocks Child in the glass negative is kept.

gelatin silver prints and colour of a prospective image in terms of the

photographs relied density of visual information to be
on a standardization of photographic registered on the negative. Adamss 1948
chemicals and processing techniques. In book The Negative remains in print. Yet even
turn, these advances led to the negatives Adams aficionados are tempt-ed to scan
ability to record more visual information old and new negatives into their computers,
and keep that information intact through enriching them with photo-editing tools
the printing process. and reproducing them on upmarket digital
Until the advent of digital photography, printers.
the negative was the element of
photography in which many photographers
took the most pride. Around 1940, Ansel
Adams and Fred Archer developed what is
called the Zone System, a method by which
photographers could previsualize the tones

The daguerreotypes silver surface
often gave the light areas of a
photograph a shimmering effect, as in
Alexandre Clausels Landscape near
Troyes, France (c. 1855).
The mirror with a memory

Edgar Allan Poe, seen here in an

anonymous 1849 daguerreotype,
was quick to promote the benefits of
IDEA No 5 daguerreian photography.


With its highly polished, mirror-like silver surface and extremely

detailed images, the daguerreotype was the most popular
photographic process for portraits until the 1850s. Indeed, so
lifelike were daguerreotype portraits that many imputed
supernatural powers to them.
In the process to which the French artist House of the Seven Gables featured
and chemist L.J.M. Daguerre gave his name daguerreotypes that had the power to
in the late 1830s, a piece of copper, plated reveal the moral character of individuals.
with silver, was polished to a mirror shine. Occasionally, when people went to a
The plate was made light-sensitive by daguerreotypist to have their likeness
exposure to iodine fumes, and then placed created, they brought along tokens of the
in a camera obscura. The camera produced dead, such as a hat
an invisible latent image that was later or scarf, in the hope that the daguerreotypist
made visible, or developed, by exposure to would be able to conjure up the spirit of the
mercury fumes contained in a specially departed.
made box. It may seem odd that one of the first
Belying its heft, the silver plate was worldwide photographic processes
delicate and easily scratched or stained. consisted of an image on a rather heavy
Moreover, the daguerreotype had to be copper sheet that had been plated with
held at a certain angle in order to be seen. silver. Then as now, a wide variety of surfaces
The pictures surface was protected by or supports the material on which the
glass, and the plate itself was often put into image appears could be used for
a case lined with dark fabric so that the user photography. Much-debated anecdotal
could tilt the dark half to shade the images evidence suggests that the valuable
shiny surface and make it more perceptible materials used to make daguerreotypes
or readable. sealed the destiny of many of these early
News of the daguerreotype spread photographs, which were melted down
around the world, aided by an instructional during times of war and economic distress.
manual produced by Daguerre himself. But since few statistics relating to the
Since the materials necessary to make a worldwide production of daguerreotypes
daguerreotype were already on the market, exist, it seems impossible to provide
daguerreotypomania broke out, as newly convincing evidence about their fate.
minted photographers quickly bought up
camera obscuras and chemicals and began
making images.
Soon, daguerreotype became a noun
and verb in English, referring
not so much to photography as to
the idea of exact, minute truth. In
popular literature, daguerreotypes and
daguerreotypists were sometimes seen as
possessing unnatural powers, such as being
able to cast spells upon the innocent.
Nathaniel Hawthornes 1851 novel The

To boldly go ...



When early advocates of photography argued the worth

of the new medium, they usually mentioned its value to scientific
expeditions and geographic documentation.
The camera played a significant role in recording and exploring
the world and the universe around us. At the same time, it
became a symbol of intrusive scrutiny.
In August 1839, photography was disclosed lured tourists and roused in armchair outer space and ocean depths. Professional
to the world. Such was the immediate travellers a demand for photographs of the photographers accompany expeditions to
enthusiasm for the new medium that John area and its people. Beginning in the 1850s, create images used for scientific purposes,
Herschel, the inventor of the cyanotype Francis Frith created travel images in a as well as to raise funds and generate public
process, proposed that the September 1839 variety of formats, pioneering a vast goodwill. Through the work
British expedition to Antarctica be equipped industry that profited from peoples desire of photographers who accompany
with photographic apparatus. Although his for vicarious travel. Foreign adventures filled polar exploration and maintain daily blogs,
suggestion failed to be adopted, the idea newspapers and were illustrated along with the public may participate
underscores how photographys appeal engraved renditions of First Photographs in the excitement and importance
rested on the assumption that it was an from the trip. of research.
impartial collector of empirical data, and The symbiotic relationship between
scientific and military investigations did colonialism and photography fostered the
eventually begin to hire photographers or cataloguing of indigenous architecture and
trained employees to make images on the foreign ministries, local people and
spot. However impartial the camera, government officials, exotic flora and
photographers tended to interpret sights in everyday life overseas. In many of these
terms of their own cultural values and photographs, the presence of outsiders in
ambitions or those of their employers. distant lands was visually justified by the
Hence photographs of the Holy Land scientific information being gathered, or by
emphasized Christian monuments and pictorial demonstrations of the white mans
those made in Greece focused on the Greek burden to civilize and instruct (see
architecture that influenced Neoclassical Evidence). Some photographic activities
architecture. were manifestly founded in notions of
Many exploratory journeys were sizable cultural supremacy. For example, the large
efforts, sponsored by govern-ments or photographic collections maintained by
companies seeking natural resources. But the Colonial Office Visual Instruction
some wealthy indi-viduals set out on long Committee (COVIC) were established to
solo photo- reconnaissance tours during create imperial unity and citizenship.
the mid- nineteenth century. J.-P. Girault de COVIC, which operated from 1902 up until
Prangey spent three years travelling the end of World War I, provided extensive
through Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt lantern-slide lectures and illustrations for
and Turkey, making about 800 textbooks that showed Britain to the empire
daguerreotypes of ancient architecture. and the empire toBritain.
What was called the romance of the Orient, Today, photography plays the role of
coupled with an interest in biblical scenery, recorder and advocate in the exploration of

The Romance of the Orient ... roused in
armchair travellers a demand for photographs.
ABOVE: A student of Near Eastern
architecture, archaeology, and Islamic
art, de Prangey photographed ancient
buildings in Greece, Egypt, Turkey,
Lebanon and Palestine. This
photograph, The Dome of the Rock
and the Wailing Wall, was taken in
Jerusalem in c. 1850.

BELOW: Because less than 5 percent of

the oceans districts and habitats have
been explored and photographed, they
are spoken of as the last frontier.
The calotype remained Early calotypists such as Flix
Teynard with his Large Speos,
Colossal Statue Seen at
a favourite of artists. Three-Quarters View, Abu Simbel
(185152) followed the technique of
ancient sculptors and architects, who
used the brilliant light and dark
shadows of Egypt to interpret form.
Thinking in multiples

LEFT: Talbots photographic ABOVE: D.O. Hill not only explored the
print-making facility shows how evocative qualities of the calotype, but
IDEA No 7 quickly the industrialization of also the negatives capacity to be
photography began to take place. retouched. The area in front of the

THE CALOTYPE sitters face has likely been lightened

on the negative.

Taking its name from the Greek words for beautiful and The soft look and large patches of dark
and light that the calotype produced, along
impression, the early photographic process called the calotype with the apparent texture of the paper on
not only made a good impression, it also made many such which it was printed, proved attractive to
artists, who found the itemizing detail and
impressions, enlarging the scope of photography by making it hard lines of the daguerreotype inelegant
possible to generate multiple images. and ugly. Comparing the calotype and the
daguerreotype, Scottish painter and early
W.H.F. Talbot, whose early venture into pasted at the corners to the page. Twenty- photographer David Octavius Hill
originating a photographic process resulted four calotypes, with accompanying text, proclaimed that the calotype looked more
in the cameraless photogram, soon realized documented various uses of the medium, like the imperfect work of man and not
that such negative images could be used to including its ability to record collections of the much diminished perfect work of
make positive prints. In 1841, he not only art objects and china, as well as reproduce God. Although it was superseded
patented the calotype method, but also sketches and image architecture. Talbots by later, industrially produced photographic
helped to set up a studio and printing ingenuity was equally apparent in his means, such as those involving albumen
establishment where he could produce awareness of photographys potential to printing, the calotype remained a favourite
images for himself and others. In effect, create sequences of images. As French of artists, making a nostalgic comeback at
Talbot foresaw and participated in the painter Claude Monet would do decades the turn of the century as part of the
industrialization of photography. later, Talbot studied the effects of light on Secession movements (see page 120).
The calotype process required paper geometric shapes in both natural and built
sturdy enough to withstand wetting with environments.
chemicals and water. In the beginning, Calotype work appealed to amateurs,
writing paper, prepared by individual who often ignored Talbots patent rights
photographers, was used. There were no and later pressured him to grant them an
standard sizes for photographs, only camera exception to the law. The worlds first
dimensions that had to be dealt with. Talbot photographic club, the Edinburgh Calotype
and other early photographers cut their Club, was formed in the early 1840s, soon
own paper and devised types of holders to after the calotype was invented (see
support the sensitized paper in the camera. Photographic Societies). As happened
In the mid-1840s, Talbot published one with the daguerreotype, exposure times of
of the earliest photographic books, with the calotype decreased as more people
actual photographs tipped in that is, experimented with it.

Gods versus mortals


Photography forced camera artists to examine the tradition of the

Western nude in terms of the new mediums stubborn realism.
Eroticism, which had always been a component in nude painted
or sculpted representations, seemed more insistent when the
subject looked less like a god or goddess and more like a specific
man or woman.
Representations of the unclothed human as to mimic the compositional principles of
figure are fundamental to Western art. painting.
Greek and Roman subjects influenced Twentieth-century nude depictions
Renaissance and Baroque work. Biblical could also be coy. In Harry Callahans
scenes, such as the expulsion from Paradise, intimate 1947 photograph of his wife,
required a semblance of nudity. So-called Eleanor, the flesh has been lightened in the
life study was for centuries a core element darkroom and the view cropped so that
of art education. But when photography ones attention is focused on
entered the picture, its frank realism seemed the soft geometry of the shadowed
to keep the medium from moving smoothly crosslike shape in the centre. The
into the depiction of Classical or religious image teeters between many possible
iconography. meanings and associations.
Though they were keen to use Many of the artistic and social issues
photographs of nudes as part of their that emerged during the late twentieth-
preparations for making paintings, century Theoretical Turn when critical
nineteenth-century artists like Eugne theory energized art-making focused on
Delacroix still criticized the machine- like the body and gender formation.
accuracy of camera work. Essentialists, who believed identity to be
To Delacroix, the photographs verisimilitude inborn, vied in their interpretations with
was inflexible. Some advocates of culturalists, who believed in cultural
photography argued that nude studies determination. Hence, several
could at least depict the typical poses struck photographers pictured behaviours like
by live models in the studio. Hence nurturing as specifically female, while
acadmies, most likely named for art others presented gender as a fractured
academies, were invented as a compromise performance of received ideas. While these
between artists need for models and the fundamental issues persist into the twenty-
supposed need for government to protect first century, some photographers, such as
the public from pornography. Ryan McGinley, have borrowed from the
The challenge posed by the nude ubiquitous influence of informal camera-
inflamed already smouldering issues about phone images to create lyrical renditions of
the influence of photography on what self- the human figure.
appointed guardians of high culture
TOP: Dance and other types of ABOVE: Like his portrait titled deemed a gullible and uneducated public.
ritualized body movements became Jasper, 2010, McGinleys photographs
popular subjects in photography. depict the bodily awareness and
Photography seemed all too ready to satisfy
Arnold Genthe, who made this nude experimentation of young men and base emotions at the expense of edification
study sometime after 1906, published women.
two books of dance photography,
and fine feeling. To soften anatomical
including one on the famous Isadora depictions, some photographers added
props, such as drapery, columns or
panpipes. Lighting, whether subdued,
blurred or patterned with dark shadows or
streaks, helped to conceal genitalia as well

Callahan made many photographs
of his wife, Eleanor, including erotically
suggestive nudes. His Eleanor, 1947,
blends cool abstraction with warm
Specially designed weights or
impromtu inventions were
attached to the shutter to create
timed lens exposures.
Lights, camera, direction!

At public events, like political

IDEA No 9 announcements and sports, the bank

of lenses gives the feeling that all eyes
are on the proceedings.

The lens was the unassertive inventor of photography. Even

though the camera obscura housed many of the earliest
photographic experiments, it was just a light-tight box. Butthe
lens already the subject of centuries of scientific refinement
was far more advanced than the other humble parts that came
together to create photography.
The cameras lens concentrates and contribute technically, except by providing lenses may also work with microscopes,
conducts light rays to the film plane or fine lenses. He was the go-between who telescopes and other viewing devices, the
digital sensor inside the camera. A lens may introduced Nipce and Daguerre, whose camera lens is distinctive. A good
be a single piece of glass or, nowadays, social and physical distance would have microscope, for instance, allows the viewer
plastic. Often lenses consist of several layers, kept them from otherwise meeting. W.H.F. to see and steadily study the image. But a
called elements, which are sandwiched Talbot, photographys British inventor, also good camera lens goes further. It is
together to achieve maximum effect. Before relied on the availability of fine lenses for his designed to deliver light rays to the whole
cameras and other photographic materials experiments. light-sensitive surface so that the chemistry
were manufactured in standardized sizes, As photography improved, special of the film changes, or the tiny photosites of
lenses were carefully adapted to lenses were developed for particular the digital camera respond properly, so as
an individual cameras dimensions, situations. As its name suggests, a portrait to render
especially the size of the area where the lens was adapted to take pictures of people. the image.
light-sensitive material was placed. In early photography, when sitters moved
Fortunately for the fledgling medium, the or closed their eyes repeatedly, the resulting
craft and science of lens making was images would be blurred. Portrait lenses
advanced and complex when were faster that is, they let light travel
photographers came to require lenses that through them more quickly which
would direct the light onto the prepared shortened exposure times and helped to
sensitive surface with as few distortions as create an unblurred image. Since portrait
possible. work was the bread and butter of early
The role played by Charles Louis photographers, the portrait lens
Chevalier in the creation of photog-raphy is was instrumental in building the
not as well known as that of the French photography business. Wide-angle lenses
inventors of the medium. Yet Chevalier, a allowed the photographer to render a
Paris optical specialist, brought together broad span of imagery, while macro lenses
Joseph Nicphore Nipce and J.L.M. enabled scientists and amateurs to make
Daguerre, whose collaboration resulted in close-up studies.
the daguerreotype. Chevalier did not Although opticians who create camera

Open wide!

IDEA No 10 The exposure for this view was so long

that one can see traces of the
movement of the stars in the sky.

A camera shutter controls the amount of light that passes through

the lens and onto the light-sensitive material where the image is
initiated. The ability to predict exposure time the period during
which the shutter is open not only gave the photographer
greater control of the medium, it also encouraged
experimentation with shutter-borne effects.
In the first few years of photography, speed. Extended exposures captured light for simple, automatic cameras increased as
exposures were often minutes long, and events that take place in darkness, the complicated professional tools, such as
light entering the camera was controlled by fullness of which the human eye cannot sophisticated shutters, proliferated and
taking off the lens cap, waiting for a few register. Ambient-light nighttime street grew in cost (see The Peoples Art). Today,
minutes, then replacing the cap. photography owes much to shutter control, the publics demand for easy-to-use
Occasionally, a black cloth was also used to as do images of firework displays, lightning cameras is evident in the automatic and
cover the lens between exposures. Simple storms and images of the penumbra of simple manual settings that allow the user
flap shutters were operated by hand or by street lights in fog. Night-time exposures of to select a degree of complexity for picture
an ingenious pneumatic pressure bulb. automobile traffic yield another familiar making. Visual effects, like panning, can be
Most early shutters were situated outside of image: long trailing streaks of white created in the camera, or after exposure
the camera body, in front of the lens. headlights and red taillights. That image, with photo-editing programs.
As film became faster and lenses which has come to symbolize not only
improved, shutters became finely heavy traffic, but also the isolation of people
engineered devices that were integrated in their automobiles, was born in still
inside the lens or elsewhere in the camera. photography and persists there as well as in
The increased use and sophistication of cinema, television, and video.
shutters helped to produce a visual effect Ironically, when photographic plates
that has become a worldwide symbol of began to be manufactured with greater
speed, especially in automobile racing and ease and were more reliable, the
other fast-paced sports (see Sporting photographers work became more
Scenes). Using a slow shutter speed while complex. Calculating exposure time
panning that is, moving the camera in the required charts, mathematics and light
direction of the action causes the meters. Since these functions were not
background to blur while the subject integrated into cameras until the late 1930s,
remains clear. Thus the blur-streaked amateur camera fans tended to avoid
background became a visual metaphor for intricate shutter work. The public demand

Quick shutter speeds created images
in which actions not easily sensed by
the human eye were visualized.

Shutters became finely engineered devices ... inside

the lens or elsewhere in the camera.
Camerawork as artwork

IDEA No 11


ABOVE: In 1992, Felix Gonzalez-Torres BELOW: The role of necessity in

If photographs are objective renderings of what the had printed multiple copies of a invention is evident in Gustave Le
photograph of clouds a natural Grays 185659 seascape,
camera sees, then the photographer is merely a machine operator, phenomenon available to all to see. Mediterranean Sea at Ste. To
He then made the images free for compensate for different exposure
not an artist. Without an artist to interpret and apply the principles anyoneto take. times, he joined two photographs, one
of the sea and one of the sky.
of aesthetics, how could photography be an art form?
The notion that there should be principles of beauty governing the creation of art was at

the heart of nineteenth-century aesthetic make images slightly out of focus. Several
theory and practice. Photography was thus pointed out that photography might be
invented at a time when art academies and improved if more people of taste and
public intellectuals taught theories and cultural acumen made photographs, or if
techniques that bolstered the creation of they aimed to instruct, purify and ennoble
fine art. In addition, artists were advised to viewers through their work
travel to Italy to see masterworks upon (see Moralizing).
which they could model and perfect their In the 1880s, Dr Peter Henry Emerson
own artworks. Could this established tried to devise an aesthetics based on the
tradition also physiology of human sight. He proposed
be applied to camerawork, the product of a taking images in which one small area was
machine? sharply focused, while the remaining areas
Numerous nineteenth-century critics who were somewhat blurry, mimicking human
scrutinized the exactitude of the peripheral vision. Even though Emerson
daguerreotype image were not inclined to ultimately rejected his own aesthetic
think of it as an art medium. Indeed, to theory, the vogue for blurry images
many, all photography seemed to be an persisted and emerged as Pictorialism, the
automatic process geared toward such first international photography movement.
strict verisimilitude that it eliminated the Knocked for being fuzzygraphs,
artists role as creator and interpreter. Pictorial photographs were popular
Painters such as Eugne Delacroix in France because they promised room for aesthetic
and Rembrandt Peale in the USA. insisted expression. Lyrical private life and quiet
that the exactitude of the photograph was landscapes were prime subjects. The rapidly
not only untrue to human perception, but industrializing world did not enter the
also worked against the ability of art to picture.
speak soul to soul. Even some of It was not until the era between the
photographys advocates considered the World Wars that the aesthetics of the
medium to be a lesser art form. machine, which so many earlier critics had
The wave of negative criticism that scorned, was revisited in art and
flooded popular journals provoked varied photography. The ability of the camera to
responses about how to create an aesthetics objectify human vision now emerged as a
of photography. Some suggested that the benefit, not a fault. So-called neutral seeing
very earliest photographs had been more played a major role in European art
artful than more recent ones, which had movements such as Constructivism, the
greater detail, because faulty images were New Objectivity and Surrealism, with
more suggestive than defining. Taking up deadpan, uninflected images being reborn
this idea, others proposed that and retheorized many times since (see New
photographers should lessen detail and Topographics).

In Clarence Whites 1906 interpretation
of Morning, dawn is indicated by
bright light filtering through the fog.

The vogue for blurry images persisted

and emerged as Pictorialism.
As John Dugdale began to lose his
sight, he retrained himself from a
commercial photographer to an art
photographer. With assistants, he
composed scenes based on mental
images such as Self Portrait in
Rondout Creek (c.1992).
Getting the blues

ABOVE: The cyanotype allowed builders BELOW: Anna Atkins was one of the first
and engineers to create durable and scientists to use the cyanotype to
detailed drawings. record delicate specimens, as in
Himanthalia Iorea, from her 1843
IDEA No 12 book on algae.


The cyanotype is a form of photography recognized by

its lush Prussian blue colour, which is achieved by the use
of iron rather than silver as the light-sensitive material.
It is most familiar from the blueprints and bluelines, commonly
called the blues, used in the building trades and architecture.
The cyanotype was invented by John Herschel in 1842, soon after photog-raphy was
announced to the world. Like the photograms of W.H.F. Talbot, cyanotypes are usually made
without the use of a camera. An object or of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, was
drawing is placed on a sheet of sensitized first published in 1843. Fewer than 20
paper and then exposed to sunlight. After copies are known to exist today.
exposure, the paper is washed in water and The cyanotype papers ability to record
an outline of the object appears in white on notes written directly on it or transferred to
the blue surface. it, along with its ease in making prints from
In the 1870s, cyanotype paper was scientific specimens, kept it in small but
manufactured by Marion & Company, one constant use throughout the nineteenth
of several photographic companies that and early twentieth centuries. Similarly,
served the retail trade in Britain. Before that photo-graphers used the inexpensive
time, users followed simple instructions to process to proof that is, to check
sensitize the paper, but were warned about negatives before printing them. Since its
the danger that their hands might be inception, some photographers have
turned blue in the process. explored the cyanotypes expressive any support that will absorb or hold the
Anna Atkins, a friend of both Talbot and qualities, but others have complained chemicals, such as fabric, wood, orleather.
Herschel, became a scientist at her fathers about its insistent blueness. To them, the
knee. Like many people curious about the cyanotype is a photographic process that
invention of photography, she owned a overwhelms its subject.
camera. But her lasting contribution to Nevertheless the technique seems to
science and photog-raphy was not made have found a devoted following since
with the camera, but with the cameraless utilitarian blueprints were largely replaced
photogram. To render delicate algae by digital means. Cyanotype has become
specimens whose fine detail eluded her an alternative process a mode of
drawing skills, Atkins placed samples photography no longer dom-inant or useful
directly on cyanotype paper. Making in the mainstream, but interesting for its
images directly from the samples seemed visual appearance or technological
to create a new kind of copy a facsimile, challenge. For children, and for
from the Latin term meaning to make alike. photographers who have only known
In this line of thinking, the photographic digital photography, the relatively quick
image is more than a representation: it and inexpensive cyanotype carries some of
bears an essence of the thing photographed. the wonder of the first photographs. It can
Atkinss limited-edition book, Photographs be created outdoors, in the sun, and with